Friday, June 11, 2021

Coordinated Disinformation Campaigns on Twitter

 Today on twitter I kept seeing the same message coming up, over and over again.  What the heck is going on? 


Mia's mom wants major restaurant chains to know that she's not exactly up on the science.

The link goes to the Center for Food Safety, an organization that really isn't that is much more of an anti-technology club than a food safety concern.  They speak out against any application of biotechnology, such as the release of the disease-suppressing GE mosquitoes in the Florida Keys. 

Somehow when CFS launches a twitter campaign they plaster the Tweet Stream with the exact same message over and over again.  My feeling is that they do this to create the impression of a mass consensus, a movement to essentially bully retailers and restaurants.

In this case it is the AquaAdvantage Salmon, a fish grown in inland tanks in Indiana.  First invented in 1989, the salmon has had a rocky road to market, despite the magic of growing to market size in half the time and on a fraction of the food and other resources. 

It has been shown to be equivalent to regular salmon and safe as can be. It is not a threat to natural populations because the fish are genetically sterile and a long flop to any place where they could cause ecological problems. 

While technophiles argue that this innovation takes pressure off of natural populations and can provide fresh fish at a better price point, those opposed to biotechnology in any form push back.

The Tweet above is just one of hundreds.  Literally, hundreds. All exactly the same, cookie-cutter tweets. The information is false, as they imply risk to public health, oceans, and wild salmon populations. It is total disinformation. 

They spam popular restaurant chains and hotels, folding them in to tweet after tweet.  What gives? 

I've heard of tweet-storms before, campaigns to start hashtags trending around a given topic. When spawned organically this is probably a good way to get an issue noticed. 

But the identical nature of these tweets is highly suspect. They are not retweets, they appear to be original work of real people.  But are they? 

I thought they were bots, and remain to be convinced otherwise.  Are there services out there that create hundreds of bogus accounts that appear real, simply for these applications? 

I reached out to some of the tweeters, asking if there is a message they received or some script they copied.  I received one reply that said, "Go to the (CFS) website". 

I went to the website and there was simply a petition to sign. No twitter script. 

Meanwhile they accumulate by the hundreds. 


If you search tweets using the hashtag #GMO you'll find over 100 identical messages implying harm from AquaAdvantage Salmon.

I'm very interested in how these kinds of coordinated disinformation campaigns are being used to influence corporate decisions.   Social media can be a powerful influence, and those not understanding the technology might find this mass movement against a new product quite compelling.  How can so many people be wrong?

The real question is, are there really so many people, or is this just some devious scam to present the fa├žade of widespread concern, when it really is just the Center for Food Safety pushing their typical anti-biotech agenda?  


Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Are You Harming Your Best Advocate?

 Be careful when you take action to eliminate an informed voice from a conversation. In the days of the internet such cancellation can be permanent, and if you remove someone that has a clue, it might just come back to work against your best interests later on. 

Throughout the 2000's and most of all in 2015 and to this day, there have been activist groups and unhinged individuals that wanted me silent.  Whether it is weird professional jealousy, the fact that I run a highly-rated biotech podcast, or the fact that I am a trusted source of scientific information, I attract vicious critics. 

But I'm consistent about two things:

1. Speaking from the evidence and the data.

2. Admitting when I'm incorrect and adjusting.  

When critics use sharp and defamatory means to destroy trust and remove their target from a scientific conversation, they run the risk of removing them from all scientific conversations. 

In 2015 I was targeted by USRTK, Paul Thacker, Charles Seife, Organic Consumers Association and dozens of other anti-biotech activists.  Food Babe Vani Hari joined in. Journalists like Eric Lipton at the New York Times and freelance writer Brooke Borel took hard and visible shots that today clearly stand as well-orchestrated hit pieces. 

Other folks added their interpretations of emails, professional actions and even crept eerily into my personal life. Gross. 

 The defamation for teaching science remains permanent on the internet to this day. 

Why does it matter? 

Because it forever serves as a touchstone for those that reject the science I teach, it is a get-out-of-science-jail-free card to those that want to debate climate change, vaccination, genetic engineering or evolution, but rely on bad evidence and conspiracy to fortify their bankrupt positions.  

Case in point.  Last night I had a pleasant conversation on Twitter with someone (now going by "Fauci is Mengele" that was certain he was correct.  He was not.  He drew a chorus of supporters that chimed in about the COVID19 vaccine that was untested, experimental, dangerous, and blah, blah, blah. 

Painted into a corner with evidence to counter his anti-vax claims, he "did research" on me and posted this:

Fauci is Mengele "did a bit of research" to eliminate my knowledgeable voice from an important conversation.  A tip of the hat to those that work to slander scientists.

And the fact that I've not "lined my pockets" and am hardly an insider doesn't matter. I've been a academic scientist my entire career and have a strong record of public service.  The fact that the New York Times used out of context quotations (at times eliminating words to reverse their meaning) and false interpretations to harm my reputation is something I'll carry to the grave. 

From the New York Times, 9/5/2015 regarding me: 
I reject the notion that teaching science is a "corporate public relations campaign"


Also from the New York Times, 9/5/2015 
When I first read this in print I spit my coffee all over the screen. Inner circle?  I'm a freakin' piss-ant public servant that begs federal agencies for funding to do great science and train tomorrow's scientists. I WISH I was some kind of inner circle lobbyist or consultant!  


This kind of rhetoric provides an easy disqualification for those that cannot discuss the evidence.  If they can't address your arguments with conspiracy and websites, they eliminate you from the conversation.  This is especially true towards me because I treat everyone with profound kindness and do influence those watching the conversation. 

So be careful of trashing academic, public scientists in big, public, visible ways.  At the end of the day they do work for you, and the reputation you are harming may be that of one of your best advocates.